Before you hook up a camper to your tow vehicle, make sure your vehicle is rated for towing. Your owner's manual should have a section that tells you how heavy -- and in some cases how large -- a load the vehicle can tow safely. Don't exceed that limit -- should something go wrong, you might not be able to claim your insurance.
When you attach the camper to the tow vehicle, make sure you connect all safety chains or lines. You'll need to hook up and check the camper's wiring. Test the brake lights and turn signals before you go on your trip.
The most important tip to remember when towing a camper is that practice makes perfect. Towing a large object can turn even the simplest of maneuvers into a tricky situation. It's a good idea to get some experience towing your camper in a large open area such as an empty parking lot before you hit the road.
Here's a short list of maneuvers you'll need to practice:
- Making turns - If your camper is wider than your tow vehicle, you'll need to learn how to take turns without hitting the curb or crossing too far over the edge or center of the road. If you aren't careful, your camper could clip trees, signs or other objects.
- Accelerating and braking -Towing a camper increases the mass of your overall vehicle. As the mass of an object increases, so does momentum and inertia. That means it takes more energy to accelerate and to brake. You'll need to allow yourself more time and distance when slowing or coming to a stop.
- Backing up -Perhaps the trickiest maneuver is backing up while towing a camper. You may need to learn this skill in order to maneuver in and out of camp sites. If possible, work with another person who can direct you while you're backing up. Use hand signals to communicate with one another. When backing up, put one hand on the six o'clock position on your steering wheel. To back up in a certain direction, move your hand in that direction. Just take your time and pay attention to your surroundings.
If your camper is wider than your towing vehicle, you should invest in some towing mirrors. These mirrors either replace or extend your existing side view mirrors and give you a wider view behind you. Without these, you may not be able to detect cars approaching you from the side or the rear.
Check the local laws before taking your camper out on the highway. Some states have very specific restrictions on towing and may require you to install towing mirrors or other safety equipment. If your travels take you into another state or country, remember to read up on their laws and regulations as well. Nothing ruins a trip quite like having law enforcement ticket you for violating traffic laws.
One thing you should always look out for when towing anything is trailer sway. Trailer sway refers to the frightening scenario in which a camper or trailer begins to move left and right as you tow it. Unchecked, trailer sway can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Using the tow vehicle's brakes or steering to get out of a sway can often make things worse. Try to avoid accelerating too quickly, particularly while going downhill. If your camper begins to sway, don't panic. Apply your camper's brakes if it has a separate brake system. Gradually come to a stop off the side of the road. That will give you a chance to see if there's something you can do -- such as shift the load inside the camper -- to reduce its tendency to sway.
Keep these tips in mind and you'll be well on your way for an exciting adventure. Happy travels, campers!
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